As they do this, they will be looking for a number of programs to either co-house or co-locate. Some quick nomenclature. Co-located programs are two completely separate programs which are both in one building. The way that NOVA and the S.B.O.C. now share the Meany building is an example of co-location. Each school is a completely separate entity, each with their own principals, staff, and rooms. They share some space, such as the library, but they have separate identities. Other examples include Denny/Sealth, and McDonald and SNAPP at Lincoln. Co-housed programs are two programs that not only share a building, but also share administration staff and sometimes teaching staff as well. Among these are APP and the general education programs at Garfield, Ingraham, Washington, Hamilton, and Thurgood Marshall, Spectrum programs all across the district, Montessori programs, language immersion programs at Concord and Beacon Hill, and even COHO/NOMS for those with long memories.
Questions will arise about the probabilities for success when programs co-locate or co-house. There are challenges, for sure, as the programs inevitably compete for resources and attention. We have examples of successful co-housing, unsuccessful co-housing, and co-location with various degrees of success. What makes co-housing work? What steps should be taken to promote success?
One key to success is that each program must be big enough to form a viable learning community. Programs need critical mass. We see this with Spectrum programs across the district. The elementary Spectrum programs with at least 90-100 students, with one self-contained class per grade at least in grades 3-5 (even if they have blended classrooms in grades 1 and 2), are generally perceived as authentic and effective while those that cannot assemble this critical mass are viewed with skepticism. Generally speaking, however, a program should have two classes per grade so the teachers have a grade level peer with whom they can collaborate and consult and so the students have a mix of classmates instead of the same classmates every year. This critical mass requirement of at least two classes per grade creates a problem. In an elementary school, with six grades, that's twelve classes per program. That would be 24 classes for two programs. If we assume an average class size of 25, that's an enrollment of 600. And that's without any self-contained special education or ELL programs in the building. We don't have many elementary schools that can hold over 600 students. Consequently, it doesn't appear that any elementary school can house two programs of critical mass. One of the programs will have to be half size. Is it fair to put a program into a building where it can never grow to a size that would allow it to reach critical mass?
This isn't a problem for middle schools or high schools. Two classes per grade at middle school is just 180 students per program. Our middle schools, which are commonly built to house up to 1,000 students, could host two or even three full-size programs and still have almost half of the building available for a general education program. High schools, with capacities over 1,500, could also host three full-size programs of 240 and still have more than half of the building available for general education.
Another key to success is that the administration and the staff of the building must actually support the programs. We have certainly seen what A.L.O. programs are like in the schools where the staff has no interest in the program. Worse, we have seen what happens to Spectrum programs in schools where the principal and teachers are openly hostile to the program.
Scarce resources create zero net-sum situations. There will be times when programs compete for a resource and only one of them can get it. If the same program always wins every competition, that can sour the relationship. Steps should be taken to reduce the competition and the outcomes should be equitable. Voice is one of the most critical resources. Does one program's families dominate the PTSA or the Building Leadership Team? Does one program's families provide most of the volunteers and donations? How are jealousies and resentments created? How can they be prevented? Some programs, such as special education programs or ELL programs are not only small, but they are also, for a variety of reasons, also hampered in their voice and advocacy. They sometimes need other people in the school advocate for them.
There are sometimes significant differences in the culture or socio-economic status of two groups. That's bad planning from the start - not because it guarantees problems but because it creates challenges and it works against shared identity. If schools that co-house programs are going to create healthy cultures, they will need to create a single identity and culture for the school that transcends the programs within it. We can all certainly think of times when this either happened or did not happen.
How many programs can a single school successfully manage? There's a kaleidoscope of programs at Hamilton; I don't think I could name them all. There are other schools with just one program.
If the District approached their enrollment planning by first thinking of what schools, students, and programs they needed to house and then designed the buildings, that would be one thing. Given the way they are doing it, however, there will be programs that will need to share space. How can we make that work?